December 23, 2012 in Nation/World

Russia says others can give refuge to Assad

Associated Press
 

BEIRUT – Russia would welcome any country’s offer of safe haven for Syrian President Bashar Assad, but has no plans to make one of its own, Moscow’s foreign minister said in the latest comments to suggest a growing distance between the two allies.

Sergey Lavrov’s remarks on Friday night were among the clearest signs yet that Russia could be preparing for a Syria without Assad, as rebel pressure on the embattled leader intensifies.

Up to now, Russia has vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Syria’s government to stop the violence that has killed more than 40,000 people over the past 21 months. While Russian leaders have given no concrete signs that stance has changed, their tone has shifted as rebels advance on the outskirts of the capital.

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin distanced himself further than ever from the Syrian president, saying Russia does not seek to protect him and suggesting his regime is growing weaker.

Speaking to reporters late Friday, Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that “it doesn’t invite President Assad here,” although he said other countries had asked Russia to convey their offer of safe passage to Assad.

While he would not name the countries, Lavrov said Russia had responded by telling them to go directly to the Syrian leader.

“If there is anyone willing to provide him guarantees, they are welcome!” Lavrov said on board a plane returning from Brussels, where he attended a Russia-EU summit.

“We would be the first to cross ourselves and say: ‘Thank God, the carnage is over!’ If it indeed ends the carnage, which is far from certain.”

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